Venezuela sold 73 tonnes of gold to Turkey, UAE last year: legislator

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government last year sold 73 tonnes of gold to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates without the required approval of the opposition-led National Assembly, an opposition legislator said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro touches a gold bar as he speaks during a meeting with the ministers responsible for the economic sector at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo

Of that total, Abu Dhabi investment firm Noor Capital bought the largest amount, 27.3 tonnes of gold, opposition legislator Carlos Paparoni told a news conference, without providing evidence. Paparoni also said a Turkish firm bought 23.9 tonnes of gold last year.

Venezuela’s opposition, led by National Assembly leader Juan Guaido, has sought to prevent the gold sales, believing Maduro’s government is using the proceeds to try to stay solvent as U.S.-imposed sanctions cut off other revenue streams. The United States and numerous other countries have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader in the aftermath of Maduro’s re-election last year in a vote critics have called a sham.

Venezuela had gold reserves of 132 tonnes between the central bank’s vaults and the Bank of England at the end of November, according to central bank data.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately respond to requests to comment.

Noor Capital last Friday said it had bought 3 tonnes of gold on Jan. 21 from the Venezuelan central bank and would not buy more until Venezuela’s situation stabilized. Its purchase was in accordance with “international standards and laws in place” as of that date, it said.

“We will keep working so that not one more gram of gold can be sold,” Paparoni said.

In response to a request to comment, Noor Capital issued the same statement as last week saying it “does not engage in any illegal or prohibited transactions.”

Paparoni also said Maduro’s administration had transferred 127 million euros to bank accounts in Russia, without providing a date. Since Monday, the Venezuelan government has not been able to move money between its accounts in banks in the European Union, Paparoni said.

Turkey and Russia have been key supporters of Maduro.

Maduro’s government began selling gold about a year ago after falling oil production, economic collapse and mounting U.S. sanctions hit public income in the OPEC-member nation and made it hard for it access credit.

Reporting by Corina Pons and Mayela Armas; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Will Dunham